For many, hunting some of Wyoming’s premier deer, elk, and antelope areas is a far-off dream. The drawing odds are particularly poor to draw these special hunts via the Wyoming Game and Fish Department draw because of the demand created by their exceptional quality experience. Some hunts offer the chance to pursue mule deer in the rut when big bucks abound and hunters can be selective. Other hunts, like many of the desert elk hunts, give tag holders the chance to use their optics and find an old monarch of a bull before closing in. While there are good hunts Wyomingites can go on yearly, the deer, elk, and antelope hunts you can pick with a Commissioner's tag truly are next level for their solitude, number of game, and trophy quality potential. That’s what makes most of us dream big when it comes to the various Commissioner License raffles available by nonprofit organizations in Wyoming.
Much like many of you, the Wyoming Wildlife Federation staff daydreams of one day experiencing these hunts. As dedicated hunters, many of the WWF team has their own style of hunting and their own vision of trophy critters in trophy country. Here are their picks for Commissioner License hunts.
Jess Johnson, Gov't Affairs Director | Area 102 Mule Deer Hunt
The Greater Little Mountain Area is legendary in many ways and mule deer hunting is no exception. Ever since becoming a limited quota hunt, area 102 has been known to produce exceptional quality mule deer bucks. Unfortunately, drought has been hard on the region and the number of deer in the area sits significantly lower than the population objective. WWF’s Gov’t Affairs Director, Jess Johnson, is enchanted by the big canyons, brushy hillsides, and rocky outcroppings that make this unit a high-quality archery deer hunt.
When asked why Jess would choose this hunt, she said, “I came to hunting with archery equipment in my hand. I started working at the Wyoming Wildlife Federation when we first became heavily involved with the Greater Little Mountain Coalition – a group dedicated to the conservation of this incredible part of Wyoming. The time I have spent on on-the-ground with folks who have grown up in the area and know this landscape like their own backyard has left a burning desire to experience a hunt there. The chance to pursue mule deer would allow me to tie all of those experiences together.”
This mule deer license runs the month of September for archery and the last two weeks of October. The long season dates spread the 200 license holders very thin throughout the unit and offer a quality experience for anyone who gets the chance to pursue deer here.
Joy Bannon, Executive Director | Area 130 Mule Deer Hunt
Nestled in the foothills of the Wind River Range is a historic migration corridor for mule deer. Called the “Red Desert to Hoback Migration,” the deer here cover more country every migratory season than any other ungulate in the lower-48; as far as 150 miles. This is a special landscape that also hosts a special hunting opportunity for some of Wyoming’s biggest trophy mule deer.
Policy Director, Joy Bannon, knows this migration well and having spent significant amounts of time in the Big Sandy area, loves the landscape where the high Wind River mountains meet the low sagebrush flats. In addition to big mule deer bucks, this country hosts some of the healthiest populations of Greater Sage-grouse and pronghorn antelope in the country.
“I have always been drawn to this part of Wyoming,” says Joy. “My first big game kill came from an antelope I took in the Big Sandy area and I think looking for a buck mule deer here would be a spectacular experience.”
It’s a rare event to hunt this area for mule deer with only 15 licenses offered through the annual Wyoming Game and Fish drawing. Any Commissioner License holder would be rewarded with a hunt with seclusion and a lot of deer to look over with favorable weather conditions on this hunt.
Sam Lockwood, Habitat Coordinator | Area 31 Elk Hunt
Growing up in Kemmerer, Sam Lockwood’s favorite fall activity is chasing elk in Western Wyoming. While his relatives have had the opportunity to experience some of the elk hunting opportunities in the Greater Little Mountain Area, he has not yet, and that is one of the key reasons he would be interested in the Little Mountain elk hunt in area 31, not only does this area offer some of the biggest bulls in the state it also has some of the most scenic and beautiful country a person could ask for.
“In 2017, my brother-in-law had the tag and had a great hunt. He looked over a lot of elk, and usually did not have to get far from the roadways to get eyes on good bulls,” says Sam. As a traditional bowhunter, this season would offer him the opportunity to both pursue bugling bulls in the sagebrush and aspen pockets on Little Mountain in the archery season. Then, he could come back in the rifle season if he was unsuccessful and harvest a bull in October.
This kind of flexibility in a quality hunt is something that is very appealing for hunters like Sam and Jess who want to make the most of their opportunity to spend time in the unit with few other hunters (only 75 licenses offered in the draw) and plenty of game to pursue.
Jaden Bales, Communications Director | Area 105, 106, & 109 Mule Deer Hunt
Mule deer migrate as far as Yellowstone Park to winter on Bald Ridge, just northeast of Cody, WY. This legendary movement of deer provides the backdrop for driving over Chief Joseph Pass, and for Jaden, that drive is the impetus to want to take a Commissioner License to this area.
“I’ve been in the local area hunting cow elk and flushing pheasants the last two Novembers and the amount of deer along the mountain front is incredible,” said Jaden. Since this late opportunity is the only chance to hunt mule deer or whitetail bucks, the age class of the local deer in area 109 is also very good. As a result, one could scout the unit and either hunt it in archery season or hunt in the middle of the deer rut if they so choose.
With only 25 licenses offered in the Wyoming Game and Fish’s drawing, this is another opportunity where a tag holder is likely to be the only one wandering around the unit looking for a buck to chase. For Jaden, it’s a hunt where one can look over a lot of deer in hopes of something truly special. And if “the one” doesn’t show up, it would be an enjoyable hunt the entire time.
Most previous Commissioner Tag holders have taken the opportunity to pursue elk with the license, but you will notice the staff leans heavily toward the opportunity to hunt mule deer. Plus, it's rare but there is also the opportunity to take the Commissioner Tag to any pronghorn hunt in the state, as well. Each person fortunate to hold a Commissioner License in their hands must make a tough decision given the incredible choices to pick from. It truly comes down to the individual's vision for trophy animals in trophy country, and what they value in a hunt.
We hope if you are a lucky soul to hold a Commissioner License you choose the hunt that's right for you!